Cops say he confessed to killing a Glen Burnie man and shooting 2 detectives
Anne Arundel County police Chief Timothy Altomare, gives remarks as County Executive Steuart Pittman listens during a news conference to provide an update on suspect Joseph Robert Mitchell Willis, who allegedly committed a homicide and shot two detectives. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)
By Alex Mann and Donovan Conaway
After a 16-hour search for a fugitive wanted for killing one man and shooting two detectives, Anne Arundel County police had a good idea where he was staying and who he was staying with. Turns out he had some acquaintances in the Stoney Beach neighborhood he’d fled into.
And when they finally captured the 22-year-old Pasadena man, police said Friday, they were able to get a confession from him and bring drug charges against three others in the house where he had been hiding out.
Joseph Robert Mitchell Willis is being held without bail on murder and attempted murder charges after police said he killed a Glen Burnie man and shot an Anne Arundel County police detective.
More charges are pending against Willis in connection with the shooting of another county police detective who was struck by gunfire just inside Baltimore City limits while investigating the death of 44-year-old Christopher Lawrence Jones in Glen Burnie. State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said Friday that she expects Willis to be prosecuted in Anne Arundel County whenever he’s charged in connection with shooting the detective in Baltimore.
Willis is being held without bail at the county’s Jennifer Road Detention Center and waived his right to a bail review. At the time of the shootings, Willis had an outstanding warrant for his arrest, which was issued in November after a judge found Willis violated probation from a 2018 robbery conviction.
Police said they found Willis at a home in the 1300 block of Riverbank Court Thursday evening. Inside they said they found him, three other people and a stash of drugs that included heroin, fentanyl and LSD, which they estimated to be worth thousands of dollars.
“I think it was known where the gentleman was laying his head, what had happened and the threat he presented to the community. I think folks in that house should have come forward and made it easier for us,” Anne Arundel County police Chief Timothy Altomare told reporters. “It is in our interest to want to make sure they are held accountable in the criminal justice system for that.”
Mechelle Antoinette Fisher, 42, Zachary Evan Taylor, 23, and Shawn Ethan Taylor, 21, were charged with drug-related offenses and released from custody. Fisher and the younger Taylor were released on their own recognizance, while a $10,000 bond was posted for the older Taylor. None had attorneys listed in court records.
Although police said at a press conference Friday the three harbored Willis, they only have been charged with drug-related offenses, online court records show.
Police wrote in charging documents Willis admitted to killing Jones in the 600 block of Newfield Road and then to shooting two Anne Arundel County police officers as they investigated Jones’ killing.
Leitess said Jones’ death was a targeted attack, that Jones knew Willis. But Jones’ mother told reporters outside the courthouse they’d only met a few days earlier.
Willis fled Glen Burnie in Jones’ Toyota Camry, court records show. Detectives pulled Willis over in Jones’ vehicle during a traffic stop hours later around 11 p.m. on Fort Smallwood Road near the Anne Arundel County-Baltimore City line.
As Detective William Ballard approached, Willis allegedly opened fire, leaving him in critical but stable condition, according to charging documents.
Ballard was shot in the upper body and drove to a nearby convenience store to request assistance, police said.
Police chased Willis into the Stoney Beach neighborhood off Hilltop Road where Willis crashed the stolen car and allegedly shot Detective Ian Preece, charging documents show. Preece also was struck in the upper body, police said.
Leitess said Preece t-boned Willis’ car in an attempt to subdue him. Police said Preece is also in stable condition.
“I would say the other night we thought we was going to lose one of them for awhile. Today is full of pain, today is a bad day for our guys,” Altomare said. “I am still worried, but they are in the best place on earth when you get hurt. That facility Shock Trauma has never let us down.”
Court records show Preece crossed paths with Willis before. The detective participated in the investigation into a 2017 robbery for which Willis later pleaded guilty. According to charging documents for the robbery, he allegedly pointed a gun at a general store employee before fleeing with cash and a donation jar. He also told officers after robbing the store he was going through drug withdrawal, the documents show.
Willis pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery in February 2018, but prosecutors dropped armed robbery charges.
After the crash Wednesday night, Willis fled on foot, and some 50 police officers descended upon the community in Riviera Beach. They could not locate Willis immediately but continued to search the area.
Officers later discovered Willis had acquaintances in Stoney Beach, court records show.
An Anne Arundel County judge signed a search warrant Thursday, and police that afternoon arrived at a residence in the 1300 block of Riverbank Court, according to charging documents.
Officers found Willis inside the residence, arrested him and transported him to the police department’s Criminal Investigation Division, where police said he agreed to talk to detectives without an attorney present and admitted to killing Jones and shooting detectives Ballard and Preece.
Twice before Wednesday’s spate of violence, deputies with the Anne Arundel County Sheriff’s Office attempted to serve Willis with the outstanding warrant for probation violation issued in November, Sheriff Jim Fredericks said. The Sheriff’s Office is tasked with serving arrest warrants.
After Willis pleaded guilty to the robbery, he was sentenced to five years in prison, though a judge suspended all but 18 months and tacked on five years of supervised probation.
Willis popped back up on law enforcement’s radar when he failed to report to his probation agent in September 2019 and again Oct. 30 when he failed to appear for a home visit from Parole and Probation. Fredericks said probation officers left a note and told him to report in person days later, but he didn’t.
On Nov. 14, he was charged with violation of probation for failing to report, failing to pay court fines and failing to attend court-ordered treatment, Fredericks said.
Fredericks’ deputies went to Willis’ address in the 7000 block of Middlegate Court last year on Nov. 26 and again on Jan. 14 this year. During the last visit, a family member said he no longer lived there. Deputies searched every database they have access to but were unable to find another address associated with Willis, Fredericks said.
The Sheriff’s Office is staffed with six deputies who actively go out and serve warrants, Fredericks said. They prioritize bench warrants from the Circuit Court, where more serious offenses are tried. But he said his office at any given time has approximately 1,000 to 1,500 outstanding bench warrants from the Circuit Court. Police officers can arrest someone with an outstanding bench warrant, though they don’t actively search for those with outstanding warrants.
“We do as much as we can with the resources we have,” he said.
The November warrant was not served until Friday.
“Would I have liked to see this guy locked up so he didn’t kill a man two days ago and shoot my cops?” Altomare said. “Absolutely.”
Baltimore Sun reporter McKenna Oxenden contributed to this article.